A few points on “Of Presidents and Guns,” by Egon Richard Tausch (Vital Signs, June).

After the French and Indian War the British crown gave George Washington some large land grants in Western Pennsylvania for his service.  The Indians (part of the Iroquois Confederation) living there didn’t think the British king had any authority to give their land to anyone and refused to vacate.  The grants came with no means of enforcement, and so things stood as they were.  By the end of the Revolutionary War many people had settled the area, dealing directly with the Indians for the land.  Washington tried to get Congress to send the Continental Army to dispossess the Indians and destroy their villages on the grounds that they had supported the British.  Congress was in no mood to start another war and refused.  Supposedly, Washington was so unpopular he couldn’t even survey the grants because several of the villages had effectively put bounties on him.  He may well have felt that those farmers were on land that should have been his and had a personal reason to go after the Pennsylvania farmers harder than the Southern ones.

After the Revolution many states had negotiated payment of their war loans at lowered rates.  Hamilton convinced Congress to federalize the debts and pay them at par.  Since the same taxpayers were the source of revenue, the farmers felt (with justification) that they were being taxed to benefit Hamilton’s rich friends.  The farmers thought the rich should be heavily taxed to pay each other.  There were some really hard feelings about pretty much any taxes.

At the time of the Whiskey Rebellion one of the largest distilleries in the United States was at a place called Mount Vernon, Virginia.  There is no doubt that Washington knew that enforcing the tax would put a lot of his smaller competitors out of business.  Yet if Washington had not had the support of the majority he simply could not have enforced the law.  An armed citizenry is the ultimate in checks and balances.

The guys who wrote the Bill of Rights knew something that seems to have been lost: The guy with the gun and the willingness to use it gets to be the captain of the lifeboat.  If you want a feudal aristocracy, you arm the aristocrats and disarm the peasants.  If you want a fascist police state, you arm the Gestapo and disarm the civilians.  If you want a communist dictatorship, you arm the KGB and disarm the proletariat.  And if you want a constitutional democratic republic, you arm the people and disarm (or at least severely limit the power of) the government.

To this day the descendants of a lot of those Appalachian farmers still don’t pay the damned tax.

        —Paul Kelly
Delta, CO